Republicans are paying for a permanent cut for corporations with an under-the-radar tax increase on individuals.
Senate rules require the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act not to add to the federal deficit after 10 years. Failing to meet that window would result in legislative defenestration, as it would require 60 votes in a Senate that has only 52 Republicans.
The bill aims to cut corporate taxes in perpetuity, under the theory that to do anything less would be to create uncertainty for corporations. But to do so and still have the bill not be a money loser after a decade, they need to raise extra funds somewhere.
That’s why Republicans can’t just let the individual tax cuts expire, as they do at the end of 2025, but they actually need to raise money to offset the permanent corporate tax reduction.
This chart, playing off what the Senate’s former top tax aide and New York University professor Lily Batchelder pointed out on Twitter on Friday evening, makes vividly clear where Republicans ultimately raise that money:
Thanks to a preliminary estimate from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation that was released alongside the final bill Friday, we know it’s individual taxpayers who ultimately bear the cost of the tax bill. The explanation is multifaceted. Batchelder on Twitter:
Some have asked how tax plan can permanently cut taxes on corporations on net if Senate rules require no increase in deficits after 10 years. It does so through two permanent stealth tax increases on individuals: slower inflation indexing and repealing individual mandate. 1/5
— Lily Batchelder (@lilybatch) December 15, 2017
The bill starts by repealing something that was unpopular to start with: the requirement under the Affordable Care Act that Americans have health insurance or pay a fine. The elimination of this provision will increase federal revenues by $53.3 billion in 2027. (If people do not sign up for health insurance, they won’t get federal subsidies available under the ACA.)
It’s easy math for Republicans. Wipe an unpopular rule off the books and get a chunk of change toward corporate tax cuts.
The next move is a little fuzzier but also far-reaching. The bill changes the way tax brackets are indexed to inflation. The bill adopts an inflation measure that economists regard as more accurate, but as the Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip recently explained, it’s one that doesn’t increase as quickly.
That effectively means people will enter higher brackets faster. Consider a hypothetical: If a tax bracket for a married couple had topped out at $45,000 in 2000, it would be about $64,300 under the current system, but only $61,350 under the new inflation measure. That means any family earning between $61,350 and $64,400 would have found themselves in a higher tax bracket under the new measure, even if their income had grown at the same rate.
Over time, this effect grows in ways that hit the lower and middle class harder. The wealthy don’t jump brackets as often because there aren’t as many income breakpoints up in that rarefied air. In fact, once they’re in the top bracket, it’s no longer even a concern.
Changing the inflation measure gets Republicans another $25.6 billion.
And both bits of budget jiu jitsu are built to last. These aren’t benefits that are sunsetting, like many temporary individual cuts; they’re just tax hikes that always will be tax hikes. The inflation trick will actually gain steam over time, Batchelder writes — the JCT only scored the bill for the coming decade, but the structure of the other inflation measure almost always guarantees it will be lower.
There are two significant caveats, however. First, a number of analysts argue that it’s wrong to consider the loss of insurance related to the end of the ACA mandate a tax increase, because it reflects individuals’ choice not to get insurance.
Second, most Republicans say they expect Congress to extend the individual tax cuts when they expire in 2025. And indeed, in the short term, the vast majority of Americans won’t see a tax hike — according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s evaluation of the Senate bill on Dec. 4, only 7 percent of filers will see an increase in 2019. In 2027, that would rise to 47.5 percent if Congress didn’t intervene.
But nobody knows what the future holds, and that’s a gamble the GOP was willing to take.
As a result, when all’s said and done, the net effect of all individual provisions in the tax bill, according to the JCT, is to raise taxes on individuals by a cumulative $83 billion in 2027.
Meanwhile, businesses are getting a $49.4 billion cut that year.